The pandemic has changed the game for the long term when it comes to safety at restaurants. Protocols to keep people safe are no longer just in the purview of health inspectors but are also of greater interest to your customers and the general public – and an extension of the service you offer. It’s more important than ever to be able to respond knowledgeably and professionally to scrutiny and misinformation about your food safety when you are questioned about it by customers or online reviews. Support your staff by creating quizzes and contests that arm them with scientific facts they should have at their fingertips, then reward compliance. Incorporate everything from pandemic-related safety measures related to how the virus spreads, to longstanding safety measures related to handwashing, allergen safety and contamination prevention.
This has been a year when restaurants have had to do more with less – and it’s understandable if overdue maintenance and repairs have had to take a backseat to other concerns. But the colder weather means that your restaurant could quickly become a warm haven for pests (and a problem for business) if you don’t take precautions to discourage them from entering and multiplying. Be alert to potential signs of a problem – such as gnaw marks or feces – and have an exterminator in as soon as possible if you discover them. Seal off cracks and crevices around and inside your facility and regularly check hidden areas where pests might lurk, such as around pipes and under or around appliances.
We’re all getting used to doing more tasks remotely lately – and your food safety audits may be heading in that direction if you aren’t already conducting them remotely. These audits tend to be conducted either via cameras installed onsite or via a handheld camera that employee uses to do a walk-through of your facility. Food Quality & Safety advises that you conduct employee training on how to present your facility professionally via video, and also manage the related risks carefully – particularly when it comes to data security and keeping sensitive business information safe.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has addressed the need for good ventilation in its guidance about keeping indoor spaces safe from the coronavirus, overhauling ventilation systems isn’t typically at the top of the list of actions restaurant operators are taking to make their facilities safer right now. There are likely good reasons for that: For one, the challenging economic climate makes it difficult to fathom making a significant investment in an HVAC update. But what if there were more cost-effective ways to improve the air quality in your restaurant? Regular system inspections and maintenance, attention to cleaning products and protocols, and the reconfiguring of your kitchen and dining room can all help. This report from Modern Restaurant Management offers additional guidance (https://bit.ly/2DCTjSa).
Consumers are monitoring your adherence to new safety precautions. Increasingly, so are cameras. Last year, Domino’s launched a back-of-house camera system called Dragontail to help assess basic quality control measures, like whether pizzas were the proper shape. But as Spoon reports, Dragontail is now launching an AI-powered camera that can also help monitor kitchen safety – detecting whether gloves and masks are being worn and how often a workspace is sanitized, for example. Expect more of this to come as restaurants embrace technology and face increased scrutiny of their health and safety practices. #foodsafety
In the space of just a few months, hygiene has taken on a much-elevated role in hospitality. Zagat’s newly released Future of Dining Study found that nearly 75 percent of the 6,500 diners surveyed said health and safety were overwhelmingly the most important factors influencing their decision to dine at restaurants in the months ahead. And much like the guest opinions about your service and food that appeared on Yelp and Tripadvisor a few months ago, you can now expect consumers to scrutinize (and comment online about) the cleanliness of their experience with you, whether good or bad. Any additional checks you can put in place to protect your new health and safety policies may help you to both address health risks quickly and manage your online presence. Further, supplementary health and safety checks could become more prevalent in states where virus infections have spiked. For example, the Texas Restaurant Association and the customer feedback firm A Closer Look have partnered with Dallas College to develop a training, inspection and certification program for restaurants. Pyments.com reports that the program includes a mystery shopper-type component that allows a person to answer a three-question survey about the health practices they see at the restaurant. The information is then relayed in real time to the restaurant’s corporate offices – and may at the same time help give consumers the outlet they need to share a negative experience.
Compliance with updated, COVID-19-specific health and safety procedures will be critical for operators in the coming months, not only to protect the safety of your staff and guests but to prepare for unplanned compliance checks by regulatory authorities that are likely coming down the pipeline. This is especially true in states where cases of the virus continue to rise. What systems do you have in place to ensure your new protocols are enforced consistently across shifts and locations? Digital checklists and other automated tools can help take stock of tasks, and regular training will continue to be important. But foundationally, the quality of your relationships with managers and their relationships with staff are critical – if you show you value them, their health and their contributions, they will care about protecting the business. As you adapt your business to its new procedures, also incorporate actions that can help you stay connected with your team.